The Undefeated

  • Title: The Undefeated
  • Author: Kwame Alexander
  • Illustrator: Kadir Neslon
  • Publisher: Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
  • Publication year: 2019
  • Brief Summary: From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt-“Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – Not only is this a great poetry picture books (literally this is a poem that Alexander wrote in 2008) and so could be used to teach poetry terms and definitions but can also be used to teach children about significant African American historical figures. This teacher’s guide from Learning to Give has some great ideas, such as asking guided questions before, during and after the reading. I think this book is more suited to older children as the historical context of the book older children would be more familiar with. Of course, I think adults could also get a lot out of this book themselves. This resource also lists some multimedia activities to do along with the book, such as watching an interview with illustrator Kadir Nelson on NPR, and watching a video of Kwame Alexander reciting this poem before the book was published, and comparing this recital of the poem to the book.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it –  As with many of illustrator Kadir Nelson’s books that I have read for this assignment, I have to say the illustrations here reinforce and carry Alexander’s message. Especially in the very powerful “This is for the unspeakable” trio. Many sites noted the significance of the blank two pages for “And the ones who didn’t” which I think was a profound statement. The afterword by Alexander really relates the timeframe and relevance of his poem. And the chart of historical figures and events, matching them to each phrase of the poem is a brilliant way to get children (and adults) into researching these figures more.

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